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Chapter 33

XXXIII.

In a little room at the side of that where the men's hats and coats were checked, Alan Lynde sat drooping forward in an arm-chair, with his head fallen on his breast. He roused himself at the flash of the burner which the man turned up. "What's all this?" he demanded, haughtily. "Where's the carriage? What's the matter?"

"Your carriage is waiting, Lynde," said Westover. "I'll see you down to it," and he murmured, hopelessly, to the caterer's man: "Is there any back way?"

"There's the wan we got um up by."

"It will do," said Westover, as simply.

But Lynde called out, defiantly: "Back way; I sha'n't go down back way. Inshult to guest. I wish—say—good-night to—Mrs. Enderby. Who you, anyway? Damn caterer's man?"

"I'm Westover, Lynde," the painter began, but the young fellow broke in upon him, shaking his hand and then taking his arm.

"Oh, Westover! All right! I'll go down back way with you. Thought—thought it was damn caterer's man. No—offence."

"No. It's all right." Westover got his arm under Lynde's elbow, and, with the man going before for them to fall upon jointly in case they should stumble, he got him down the dark and twisting stairs and through the basement hall, which was vaguely haunted by the dispossessed women servants of the family, and so out upon the pavement of the moonlighted streets.

"Call Miss Lynde's car'ge," shouted the caterer's man to the barker, and escaped back into the basement, leaving Westover to stay his helpless charge on the sidewalk.

It seemed a publication of the wretch's shame when the barker began to fill the night with hoarse cries of, "Miss Lynde's carriage; carriage for Miss Lynde!" The cries were taken up by a coachman here and there in the rank of vehicles whose varnished roofs shone in the moon up and down the street. After a time that Westover of course felt to be longer than it was, Miss Lynde's old coachman was roused from his sleep on the box and started out of the rank. He took in the situation with the eye of custom, when he saw Alan supported on the sidewalk by a stranger at the end of the canopy covering the pavement.

He said, "Oh, ahl right, sor!" and when the two white-gloved policemen from either side of it helped Westover into the carriage with Lynde, he set off at a quick trot. The policemen clapped their hands together, and smiled across the strip of carpet that separated them, and winks and nods of intelligence passed among the barkers to the footmen about the curb and steps. There were none of them sorry to see a gentleman in that state; some of them had perhaps seen Alan in that state before.

Half-way home he roused himself and put his hand on the carriage-door latch. "Tell the coachman drive us to—the—club. Make night of it."

"No, no," said Westover, trying to restrain him. "We'd better go right on to your house."

"Who—who—who are you?" demanded Alan.

"Westover."

"Oh yes—Westover. Thought we left Westover at Mrs. Enderby's. Thought it was that jay—What's his name? Durgin. He's awful jay, but civil to me, and I want be civil to him. You're not—jay? No? That's right. Fellow made me sick; but I took his champagne; and I must show him some—attention." He released the door-handle, and fell back against the cushioned carriage wall. "He's a blackguard!" he said, sourly. "Not—simple jay-blackguard, too. No—no—business bring in my sister's name, hey? You—you say it's—Westover? Oh yes, Westover. Old friend of family. Tell you good joke, Westover—my sister's. No more jays for me, no more jags for you. That's what she say—just between her and me, you know; she's a lady, Bess is; knows when to use—slang. Mark—mark of a lady know when to use slang. Pretty good—jays and jags. Guess we didn't count this time—either of us."

When the carriage pulled up before Miss Lynde's house, Westover opened the door. "You're at home, now, Lynde. Come, let's get out."

Lynde did not stir. He asked Westover again who he was, and when he had made sure of him, he said, with dignity, Very well; now they must get the other fellow. Westover entreated; he even reasoned; Lynde lay back in the corner of the carriage, and seemed asleep.

Westover thought of pulling him up and getting him indoors by main force. He appealed to the coachman to know if they could not do it together.

"Why, you see, I couldn't leave me harsses, sor," said the coachman. "What's he wants, sor?" He bent urbanely down from his box and listened to the explanation that Westover made him, standing in the cold on the curbstone, with one hand on the carriage door. "Then it's no use, sor," the man decided. "Whin he's that way, ahl hell couldn't stir um. Best go back, sor, and try to find the gentleman."

This was in the end what Westover had to do, feeling all the time that a thing so frantically absurd could not be a waking act, but helpless to escape from its performance. He thought of abandoning his charge and leaving him, to his fate when he opened the carriage door before Mrs. Enderby's house; but with the next thought he perceived that this was on all accounts impossible. He went in, and began his quest for Jeff, sending various serving men about with vague descriptions of him, and asking for him of departing guests, mostly young men he did not know, but who, he thought, might know Jeff.

He had to take off his overcoat at last, and reappear at the ball. The crowd was still great, but visibly less dense than it had been. By a sudden inspiration he made his way to the supper-room, and he found Jeff there, filling a plate, as if he were about to carry it off somewhere. He commanded Jeff's instant presence in the carriage outside; he told him of Alan's desire for him.

Jeff leaned back against the wall with the plate in his hand and laughed till it half slipped from his hold. When he could get his breath, he said: "I'll be back in a few minutes; I've got to take this to Miss Bessie Lynde. But I'll be right back."

Westover hardly believed him. But when he got on his own things again, Jeff joined him in his hat and overcoat, and they went out together.

It was another carriage that stopped the way now, and once more the barker made the night ring with what Westover felt his heartless and shameless cries for Miss Lynde's carriage. After a maddening delay, it lagged up to the curb and Jeff pulled the door open.

"Hello!" he said. "There's nobody here!"

"Nobody there?" cried Westover, and they fell upon the coachman with wild question and reproach; the policeman had to tell him at last that the carriage must move on, to make way for others.

The coachman had no explanation to offer: he did not know how or when Mr. Alan had got away.

"But you can give a guess where he's gone?" Jeff suggested, with a presence of mind which Westover mutely admired.

"Well, sor, I know where he do be gahn, sometimes," the man admitted.

"Well, that will do; take me there," said Jeff. "You go in and account for me to Miss Lynde," he instructed Westover, across his shoulder. "I'll get him home before morning, somehow; and I'll send the carriage right back for the ladies, now."

Westover had the forethought to decide that Miss Bessie should ask for Jeff if she wanted him, and this simplified matters very much. She asked nothing about him. At sight of Westover coming up to her where she sat with her aunt, she merely said: "Why, Mr. Westover! I thought you took leave of this scene of gayety long ago."

"Did you?" Westover returned, provisionally, and she saved him from the sin of framing some deceit in final answer by her next question.

"Have you seen anything of Alan lately?" she asked, in a voice involuntarily lowered.

Westover replied in the same octave: "Yes; I saw him going a good while ago."

"Oh!" said the girl. "Then I think my aunt and I had better go, too."

Still she did not go, and there was an interval in which she had the air of vaguely waiting. To Westover's vision, the young people still passing to and from the ballroom were like the painted figures of a picture quickened with sudden animation. There were scarcely any elders to be seen now, except the chaperons, who sat in their places with iron fortitude; Westover realized that he was the only man of his age left. He felt that the lights ought to have grown dim, but the place was as brilliant as ever. A window had been opened somewhere, and the cold breath of the night was drawing through the heated rooms.

He was content to have Bessie stay on, though he was almost dropping with sleep, for he was afraid that if she went at once, the carriage might not have got back, and the whole affair must somehow be given away; at last, if she were waiting, she decided to wait no longer, and then Westover did not know how to keep her. He saw her rise and stoop over her aunt, putting her mouth to the elder lady's ear, and he heard her saying, "I am going home, Aunt Louisa." She turned sweetly to him. "Won't you let us set you down, Mr. Westover?"

"Why, thank you, I believe I prefer walking. But do let me have your carriage called," and again he hurried himself into his overcoat and hat, and ran down-stairs, and the barker a third time sent forth his lamentable cries in summons of Miss Lynde's carriage.

While he stood on the curb-stone eagerly peering up and down the street, he heard, without being able either to enjoy or resent it, one of the policemen say across him to the other, "Miss lynde seems to be doin' a livery-stable business to-night."

Almost at the moment a carriage drove up, and he recognized Miss Lynde's coachman, who recognized him.

"Just got back, sor," he whispered, and a minute later Bessie came daintily out over the carpeted way with her aunt.

"How good of you!" she said, and "Good-night, Mr. Westover," said Miss Lynde, with an implication in her voice that virtue was peculiarly its own reward for those who performed any good office for her or hers.

Westover shut them in, the carriage rolled off, and he started on his homeward walk with a long sigh of relief.

William Dean Howells